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Rays take advantage of pitching bounty

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 6, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays had plenty of trouble on the field in Toronto on Tuesday, but the team officials working at Tropicana Field had a pretty good day.

Taking advantage of a pitching-rich draft, the Rays stockpiled a mound of promising prospects, using their first five picks, and 12 of 20, on pitchers.

"It's always a priority, but I think it stems from this year's draft more than anything," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "We thought it was a draft deep in pitching with very few quality position players, and if you look at the draft boards I think you'll see that a lot of teams drafted a lot of pitching."

Given the Rays have used several top picks on position players, such as Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, the timing was beneficial.

"It sure doesn't hurt from our standpoint, because we needed to replenish some of the pitching depth in our organization," LaMar said. "It fit what we needed to do from a minor-league standpoint and it fit this year's draft."

What made it more rewarding, scouting director Dan Jennings said, is the Rays got some quality arms.

Arizona State left-hander Jon Switzer, their second-round pick, was rated by Baseball America the 20th-best pitcher and 31st-best overall prospect. Third-rounder Christopher Flinn was considered the best college pitcher in the Northeast. Fourth-rounder David Bush was the 64th-best pitcher, according to Baseball America.

"We're real pleased with some of the guys who got to us," Jennings said.

A SUN DEVIL RAY: Switzer, a preseason All-American, struggled in the middle of the season but still finished 5-6 with a 4.04 ERA, striking out 128 in 1001/3 innings. The Sun Devils scored one run in four of his six losses.

There was some talk Switzer could be a first-round pick, but the hard-throwing left-hander expressed no disappointment about being taken by the Rays. "This is great news," he said. "I'm really excited and looking forward to getting started."

Switzer is even more excited about being reunited with Rays top pick Dewon Brazelton. They were teammates, and roommates, on Team USA last summer.

"Dewon's a great pitcher and a great guy," Switzer said. "He's a lot of fun to be around."

KNUCKLING UNDER: Flinn didn't get many headlines pitching at SUNY-Stony Brook in upstate New York, but he might quickly make a name for himself.

Flinn features a knuckle curve that some scouts say is as good as the one thrown by Yankees star Mike Mussina. "That's my bread and butter," Flinn said.

NOTEWORTY CONNECTIONS: Yankees baseball people undoubtedly were pleased to take slugging Florida State outfielder John-Ford Griffin with the 23rd pick. George Steinbrenner, who has been known to enjoy a good laugh at the Rays' expense, probably got a kick out of it, too. Griffin is the son of Bill Griffin, who was an original general partner in the Rays and whose stake is now owned by the Griffin Family Trust. ... Vincent Harrison, the Rays' 13th-round pick, is the nephew of John Shelby, who played for the Orioles, Dodgers and Tigers.

MCHALE'S VIEW: New chief operating officer John McHale Jr. sat in on parts of the draft discussions and said there was plenty to be impressed with: "The evaluations were encouraging in their thoughtfulness and soundness, the conviction in which opinions were offered, and the participants' willingness to voice different opinions."

Rays picks

(Rd., No., Player, Pos., School/hometown)

1. 3,Dewon Brazelton,RHP,Middle Tennessee St./Tullahoma, Tenn.

Details: 13-1 with 1.44 ERA and 10 complete games, one of top college pitchers.

2. 47, Jon Switzer,LHP, Arizona St./Houston

Details: Preseason All-American went 5-6, 4.04, with 128 strikeouts in 1001/3 IP.

3. 79, Christopher Flinn, RHP, SUNY-Stony Brook/Levittown, N.Y.

Details: Ranked 6th in nation with 12.28 Ks per nine innings; 6-3, 4.06 overall.

4. 109, David Bush, RHP, Wake Forest/Devon, Pa.

Details: Third-team All-American had 16 saves, 4 wins and 2.65 ERA; was MVP of ACC tourney.

5. 139, Christopher Seddon,LHP, Canyon HS/Canyon Country, Calif.

Details: Had 61 strikeouts, 15 walks in 54 1/3 innings; signed with Loyola Marymount.

6. 169, Matt Rico, OF,Fresno City CC/Clovis, Calif.

Details: Has strong overall tools, especially impressive package of speed and power.

7. 199, Timothy King, LHP, Deer Park HS/Deer Park, Texas

Details: Is clocked in the 88-91 mph range and still is growing.

8. 229, Aaron Clark, 1B/RF, Alabama/Ennis, Texas

Details: Hits for power (20 homers in 55 games), production (71 RBI), average (.335).

9. 259, Fernando Cortez, SS/3B, Grossmont JC/San Diego

Details: Offensive-oriented player won back-to-back conference batting titles.

10. 289, Jason St. Clair, SS, Desert Vista HS/Phoenix

Details: Slick-fielding shortstop with line-drive ability signed with Univ. of Arizona.

11. 319, Mark Worrell, RHP, J.I. Leonard HS/Boynton Beach

Details: Above-average fastball and very competitive nature is appealing combination.

12. 349, Neville Blount, OF,Chaffey JC/Redlands, Calif.

Details: Raw power is just one of his impressive tools.

13. 379, Vincent Harrison, SS, Kentucky/Cincinnati

Details: Can swing the bat and catch the ball; also a wide receiver for Wildcats.

14. 409, Thomas Nichols, 1B, Armijo HS/Fairfield, Calif.

Details: At 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds, 17-year-old is still developing promising power.

15. 439, Eric Miller, LHP, Gulf Coast HS/Naples

Details: 14 strikeouts per game; features fastball and curveball.

16. 469, Timothy Layden, 1B/LHP, Deer Park HS/Deer Park, N.Y.

Details: Swings an impressive bat; throws 88-91 mph off the mound.

17. 499, Michael Navaroli, RHP,Indian River JC/North Palm Beach

Details: Has a big-time fastball and a decent breaking ball.

18. 529, Jonny Gomes, OF, Santa Rosa CC/Petaluma, Calif.

Details: Has raw power and impressive speed, running a 6.64 60-yard dash.

19. 559, Jason Hammel, RHP, Treasure Valley CC/Port Orchard, Wash.

Details: Has above-average curveball and mixes pitches well.

20. 589, Jared Carney, RHP, University of Dallas/Tyler, Texas

Details: One of those guys who "knows how to pitch;" cutter is his best pitch.

- Compiled by Marc Topkin.

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